1. Outsourcing our technology regulation…to Europe

    The best example is Google Street View. … In America there was some opposition to Google taking pictures of everyone’s house, but basically the program went ahead fine. …Google said, ‘Don’t worry, we’re just taking pictures of houses, it’s not [a] big deal, we’re not downloading any data.’

    In Europe, where there’s much more recent history in the 20th century of abuses of personal information, there was a lot more opposition because people were saying, ‘Wait a minute, what are you doing? Do you really have the right to take pictures of our houses? Is that all you’re doing with these fancy cars that have all this machinery in them?’ And there was a data commissioner — or data protection officer — in Hamburg, [Germany], who insisted that Google let him — his office — inspect the hard drive of one of these cars to make sure that all it was doing was taking pictures, and to make a long story short, what he found out was that Google wasn’t just taking pictures. Google was also downloading data from open Wi-Fi networks as its cars went down these streets and Google had said it wasn’t doing this. …Now Google had also been doing this in the United States, but American authorities had not really pushed Google to the wall enough on what its cars were doing…

    Now this is the kind of thing one would ideally want our own regulators to be aware of and to have surfaced and punished Google for if in indeed this was a privacy violation. But, in fact, it was European authorities who really led the way on this and I talked with officials at the FTC [Federal Trade Commission] and they admitted, yes, the Europeans were the ones who found out Google was downloading personal data, not them. And one of the reasons why is European authorities have a bit more authority in some important cases, in important areas than American authorities do, there are folks in the FTC [Federal Trade Commission] who are real privacy hounds, who come from the privacy sphere but they don’t have necessarily the funding and they don’t necessarily have the authority to get the information and to do what they might like to do in a more ideal situation.

    Peter Maass on how privacy violations in the US were discovered by European regulators